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History of Cullinan Diamond

Fascinating History of the Popular and Luxurious Cullinan Diamond

Cullinan diamonds were made from the world's largest diamond, which was a 3,106 carats diamond, before it was broken into 9 parts. Read on to know more about this wonderful stone...
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Thomas Cullinan was a building contractor from Johannesburg. He purchased the property of Willem Prinsloo, the 'Elandsfontein Farm' in South Africa, for 52,000 pounds and established a mining company on 1st December, 1902. Thomas Cullinan named the company as Premier Diamond Mining Company Limited. Cullinan had employed almost 2000 people by 1904.
Mr. Frederick Wells was the superintendent of the 'Premier Mine'. On the evening of 26th January 1905, he was on a routine inspection when he came across a large stone on the side wall that was almost 9 meters down the surface. Initially, he considered it to be a joke by his mine friends. The weight of the stone was 1.5 pounds, and its length was 37/8 inches, width 21/4 inches, and it had 25/8 inches height. He could not believe the features of the stone and sent it for further analysis. The analysis results said that it was a 3,106 carat gem-quality diamond and the size was twice that of any other diamond ever found. This was a great turning point in the history of diamonds.
Mr. Frederick Wells received a prize money of 3500 pounds for the discovery of the world's largest diamond. It was named Cullinan after Mr. Thomas Cullinan, the mine owner. The Transvaal government bought the diamond for 1,50,000 pounds. The then Prime Minister of Transvaal government was Louis Botha. He came up with a suggestion of gifting the Cullinan diamond to King Edward VII, which was presented to the king on 9th November, 1907, on the eve of his 66th birthday.
Cullinan Diamonds from the World's Largest Diamond
Cutting the Cullinan was a crucial task. The famous 'Royal Asscher Diamond Company' was run by the Asscher brothers, Abraham and Joseph Asscher, in Amsterdam. They had successfully cut the Excelsior (the largest diamond before the discovery of Cullinan) and many other large diamonds. The great responsibility of cutting of the world's largest diamond, Cullinan, was a given to the Asscher brothers.
They studied the rough Cullinan for almost three months and prepared themselves for the big day. On 10th February, 1908, Joseph Asscher decided to cut it. On that afternoon, he struck a hammer on a V-shaped groove that he had made on the diamond, by placing a cleaving blade in the grove. The result was that the blade broke apart in two, but the diamond still remained intact. Soon, another blade was arranged and Joseph Asscher made his second attempt to cut Cullinan. He was successful in his second attempt and the diamond broke apart, just in the way he thought it would. Legend has it that Joseph Asscher fainted after cutting the Cullinan. The two parts of Cullinan weighed 1,040 carats and 1,977.5 carats each.
Later 9 large parts and 96 brilliants of the diamond were made. There was a loss of 65% in cutting Cullinan. The time taken to polish the diamonds and giving them the desired look started on 3rd March, 1908 and continued for almost 8 months.
Cullinan I
Cullinan I is a 530.2 carats diamond and is the largest part of the original diamond. It is a pear shaped diamond. It is also called Great Star of Africa and is displayed at the Tower of London. The royal Scepter of England bears the Cullinan I.
Cullinan II
Also known as the Second star of Africa, Cullinan II is displayed at the Tower of England. It is a cushion shaped 317.4 carats diamond and is a part of British crown jewels' Imperial State Crown. Cullinan I and II were used in the coronation ceremony of King George V.
Cullinan III and IV
Previously, these diamonds were in the possession of Asscher brothers and were later bought to be presented to Queen Mary, on 28th June 1910. They are also called the Lesser stars of Africa. Both the diamonds form a brooch in which, the 94.40 carats, pear-shaped Cullinan III from the Cullinan IV, which is 63.60 carats and cushion shaped.
Cullinan V and VI
Cullinan V is a triangular-pear-shaped diamond of 18.8 carats and is embedded in a platinum brooch. The Cullinan VI is 11.50 carats. It was a present to Queen Alexandra by King Edward.
Cullinan VII, VIII
Cullinan VII and VIII, 8.80 carats marquise-cut and 6.80 carats cushion-cut, respectively, are parts of a brooch that also contains some other smaller diamonds of the Cullinan. This brooch is said to be very heavy, so much so that its possessor, Queen Elizabeth, was rarely seen wearing it in public. She is known to have said, "It gets in the soup".
Cullinan IX
Cullinan IX is a pear-cut, 4.39 carats diamond, and was embedded in a ring that was presented to Queen Mary.
Discovery of the Cullinan, was a remarkable feat for the gem industry. Almost all the parts of the original Cullinan are possessed by the Royal family of England. The Cullinan still remains the largest diamond ever to be found on Earth.